The concepts of interconnectedness and multiplexity resonate globally in contemporary higher education, legal practice, and in citizens’ social and economic experience, where engagement takes place daily over distances mediated by information and communications technology. meanwhile, literature regarding student transition identifies student engagement as a key to their retention – yet Australia’s universities are struggling to compete with our students’ employment and caring obligations. Is it possible for lecturers to retain an engaging presence with our students who are more likely than ever before to be distant from campus? How might we provide opportunity and experience to our students, beyond their own community and campus? Is it possible, or even desirable, for us to compete with texting, facebook and other social media used by our students within and without the physical classroom? In this paper, the authors explore the world of blogging and micro blogging (twitter) as a means of mediating engagement with students, lawyers, academics and other interested and interesting people around the world. Through the use of auto-ethnographic case studies of their own experiences with blogging and micro blogging tools, the authors propose that far from being a distraction from student learning, these tools have the potential to open up an international professional collaborative space beyond the physical classroom, for both academics and our students, from their first year experience through to practical legal training and continuing professional development.They argue that
Our respective (and collective) experience on Twitter and blogging is borne out by the literature on social media in higher education. While there is some evidence that Facebook is regarded by students as a social space, differentiated from the learning environment, there is a growing body of literature supporting the use of Web 2.0 technologies generally in an educational context. Naturally, the considerations for using these tools as a teaching medium are similar to using other forms of ICT as a teaching medium. The medium is not the message, and it is only used to facilitate teaching and learning.
In the contemporary higher education context, the role of the academic as teacher has become more of a facilitator of student learning than the resident expert. While social engagement between student and academic via social media may not be attractive to students, the blurred boundaries between teacher and learner such as those we have observed, and the extended collegiate network available via Web 2.0 technologies including Twitter and blogging, do facilitate a less formal learning environment. This environment could be harnessed within the classroom, but in particular as we have observed it, most effectively as an adjunct to support student learning and connectedness.
Such an environment whether formal or informal, has been shown to foster collaboration skills in student cohorts – again, with multiple possible networks. Collaboration is recognised as a vital (indeed, threshold) skill for law graduates though it has sometimes been a challenge to incorporate and assess in the classroom, particularly in the law curriculum. The evidence concerning social media as a means of fostering collaboration suggests this tool might usefully be incorporated into the law curriculum to facilitate not just student engagement, but collaboration also.
Importantly however, use of these tools needs to start ‘at home’ and it is challenging indeed to consider how an academic could incorporate these tools into instructional design, or facilitate student use without themselves having experience in the media. The first step would be to set up a Twitter account. Relevantly, consider whether this will be a personal or professional account (or a combination). It is of course possible to have more than one account. Consider also the risks, and legal and professional ethics consequences of this form of engagement with students and others. One might flippantly say there is only one rule on social media, ‘Act Professionally’, however it is worth investigating in more detail what is reasonable and appropriate for your workplace.
Becoming globally connected through Twitter to: exchange, discuss, or collaborate on ideas takes only a little effort and time. Through Twitter it is possible to connect to other students, teachers, researchers and academics with a range of experience and expertise living and working in a variety of circumstances. For example:
- Investigate the use of Twitter hash tags and lists and think about how these can be used as teaching and learning or research tools, investigating what established users are doing with these tools.
- Consider using a unique hash tag for your class group, for example #adminlaw101, and instruct students to include the hash tag in their Tweets around the class topic.
- Some academics use Twitter as a way of making announcements, or posting leads to current developments relevant to the class topic (in addition to, or in support of the online learning management system).
If embedding Twitter into subject design, existing literature concerning the use of computer-mediated discussions in teaching may assist. This includes the instruction (and the ground rules) involving Twitter. In particular, see substantial literature around the community of inquiry framework approach to online discussions.
Most learning management systems incorporate a blog that can be used in subject design to promote student learning, however based on our own experience, blogging independently of the formal curriculum has proved an excellent way to understand how this medium can be incorporated into instructional design. Our own blogging demonstrates to students how this form of expression can be undertaken.
There are however many scholarly legal blogs available to showcase almost every legal topic to students as a means of connecting students with a wider world of discipline knowledge and evidence of applied legal thinking. As with Twitter, such blogs can be linked via the learning management system and students can follow these as they see fit, contributing to students developing their own personal learning environment.